Seattle composer Thomas Peterson died last year on December 26. No obituaries appeared, no glitzy retrospective concerts took place, but fame followed the celebrated composer after death, at least for a short time. While encomiums flowed from musicians, students, fans, and journalists, the composer's scores, sketches and private tapes found a home at an institute or a university. The greater the fame, the bigger the archive; Stravinsky's Swiss archive teems with heaps of paper ephemera, from important drawings to casual, piddling scraps.
Some composers, toiling in obscurity, abide by the hidden covenant that undergirds artistic creation: Write unrecognized masterpieces for three or four decades, and, near the end of your life, students, disciples, and critics will vindicate your work with a swarm of articles, monographs, commissions, and festivals. Other composers don't give a damn.
Thomas Peterson was born in Seattle in 1931; he studied at the Mozarteum in Vienna and subsequently graduated from the UW in 1956. He composed songs, chamber music, and a symphony. Generously loaned to me by the Washington Composers Forum, Peterson's archive sits on my table in a single, wax-coated cardboard box about as big as two shoeboxes placed side by side. Inside, an envelope with two photos rests alongside two scores, a reel-to-reel tape, two-dozen cassette tapes, and some CD-Rs.
I never met Peterson, but I've spent the last several days listening to his music, including a string quartet performed by the Kronos Quartet back in 1977 and two fine songs, "Linda" and "Cannon Beach." I'm awed by Peterson's rough-hewn counterpoint, which has a no-nonsense, frontier toughness. I don't know if he gave a damn about posterity, but he cared enough to write good music. The archive may be small, but I suspect more riches lurk inside.